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© 2019 MERRY JANE. All Rights Reserved.

Smokincrantz and Guildenstoned Are Heads

The characters in “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” Tom Stoppard’s master work of existentialist theater, lead us through life’s biggest questions, one toke at a time.

Sure, we've all seen half of Half Baked, slid into a bag of White Castle with Harold and Kumar, and stared at that one Bob Marley poster for an hour and 47 minutes in a dorm room. But stoner entertainment goes back way further than even Reefer Madness, the first movie made for stoners, by stoners. Some argue Shakespeare himself was known to munch on the devil's lettuce, which is honestly the only reasonable explanation for A Midsummer Night's Dream. Throughout modern recorded history, creative types and their disciples have found a little extra inspiration from our good friend Johnny Blaze. Tucked neatly into the middle of our most recently ended century is British playwright Tom Stoppard, whose Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead bears all the hallmarks of a stoner classic when approached in a, um, certain state of mind.

Like many great pieces of weed art, R&G features two clueless-as-shit bros in the midst of an adventure they don't understand. The action of the play occurs simultaneously with that of Shakespeare's Hamlet—another one for the weedheads, nobody's ever talked to a skull sober—whose titular character is Simba from The Lion King (except Scar is also banging his mom). Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Timon and Pumba in this analogy, except they're working for Scar trying to get Simba killed. Instead of fucking up some hyenas though, Ros and Guil spend roughly 100 pages of primarily two-person dialogue not knowing who they are, where they are, or what they're doing, and wind up dead. Think of when Harold and Kumar hang glide to White Castle, except instead they just jump off the fucking cliff. If you're not sure whether Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are stoned, consider this bit of dialogue from Stoppard's play, in which Guil reads a letter that he and Ros are sailing to deliver to the King of England:

"A letter—yes—that's true. That's something…a letter…(Reads.) "As England is Denmark's faithful tributary…as love between them like the palm might flourish, etcetera…that on the knowing of this contents, without delay of any kind, should those bearers, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, put to sudden death—"

AND THEY DO IT. Guil is so stoned he can barely read the contents of the letter, and remains blitzed enough to make it to England, deliver the letter to the King, and be executed! Stoppard's keen sense of the absurd didn't come out of nowhere, folks. His presence in the literary counterculture of the '60s, as evidenced by the debut of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the 1966 Edinburgh Fringe Fest, indicates he pretty damn well knew people fresh off the dank would like his work. The Fringe Fest does not issue official invitations for performances and emphasizes non-traditional venues, making it perfect for stoners who want to stick it to the Man, man. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's status as a cultural touchstone for high-minded individuals is further exemplified by its clear presence in the mind of the Harold & Kumar writers, whose stated goal was to make another movie with the same characters taking place simultaneously, as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern does with Hamlet.

Beyond the obvious cluelessness that leads them into a death trap, there is a running theme throughout Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in which the characters confuse themselves for each other. At one point, they meet a band of actors and make introductions as follows:

ROS: My name is Guildenstern, and this is Rosencrantz.

Are you over 18?

[Guil confers briefly with him.]

[Without embarrassment] I'm sorry—his name's Guildenstern, and I'm Rosencrantz.

This continues when they are supposed to meet Hamlet to question him about his odd behavior. Of course, this doesn't come naturally to them, so they have to practice beforehand.

GUIL: I'm him, you see.

ROS: Who am I then?

GUIL: You're yourself.

ROS: And he's you?

GUIL: Not a bit of it.

ROS: How should I begin?

GUIL: Address me.

ROS: My dear Guildenstern!

GUIL: [quietly] You've forgotten—haven't you?

ROS: My dear Rosencrantz!

GUIL: [qreat control] I don't think you quite understand. What we are attempting is a hypothesis in which I answer for him, while you ask me questions.

ROS: Ah! Ready?

GUIL: You know what to do?

ROS: What?

GUIL: Are you stupid?

ROS: Pardon?

GUIL: Are you deaf?

ROS: How should I begin?

GUIL: Address me.

ROS: My honoured lord!

GUIL: My dear Rosencrantz!


ROS: Am I pretending to be you, then?

Stoppard fuckin' knows, man. Who hasn't had this exact conversation after two blunts?? It's really the only way you can have this conversation at all.

As if exchanges like the above didn't make it obvious enough, Stoppard slips a big clue in the first five pages before we are fully oriented to the presence of THC particles swirling around in Ros's and Guil's bloodstreams. The play begins with the two characters flipping heads on a coin 92 times in a row, which prompts Guil to wax poetic on the nature of probability:

Are you over 18?

Syllogism the second: One, probability is a factor which operates within natural forces. Two, probability is not operating as a factor. Three, we are now within un-, sub-, or supernatural forces.

Humans have long understood the supernatural properties of weed, Jah bless, and Stoppard is no stranger to them. In fact, I'm gonna borrow that line to fuck with stoned people after smoking with them: "We are now operating within supernatural forces" (extremely Darth Vader voice). Just a little something to let 'em know shit's about to get weird.

Ultimately, we don't get high just to practice for the day we might try to outsmoke the Dogg. We get high to sit around and contemplate the meaning of life and death. Faced with their own mortality, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern take a big puff and leave us with this:

GUIL: [quietly] Where we went wrong was getting on a boat. We can move, of course, change direction, rattle about, but our movement is contained within a larger one that carries us along as inexorably as the wind and current…

ROS: They had it in for us, didn't they? Right from the beginning. Who'd have thought that we were so important?

GUIL: But why? Was it all for this? Who are we that so much should converge on our little deaths? Who are we?

Are you over 18?